The inception of the Mormon religion followed by its troubled first years is told here in the haunting tradition of Japanese Kabuki Theater
Smith attempted to retrieve the golden plates from the hill in New York; he could not, however,
for another three years. He reported in his journal that the angel Moroni had refused him
access: "You have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave you...And in his own
due time thou shalt obtain them." Interestingly, during this period Smith and his father were
known in their area as "treasure-finders" or "money-diggers". Prior to the First Vision, Joseph
found a "seerstone", a smooth stone "the size but not the shape of a hen's egg." According to
the tenets of folk magic which were popular in that region at the time, the seerstone possessed
magical powers which allowed the holder of it to locate lost objects and precious metals beneath
the earth's surface. Many believed that Smith could not have found the golden plates of Moroni
had it not been for this magical stone.
A year later, Smith reported another vision, one that would decisively shape the rest of his life:
"And it came to pass when I was seventeen years of age, I called again upon the Lord and he
shewed unto me a heavenly vision. For behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me.
It was by night and he called me by name and he said the Lord had forgiven me my sins. He
revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester, Ontario County, New York, there was plates
of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni and his fathers, the
servants of the living God in Ancient days, deposited by the commandments of God and kept by
the power thereof and that I should go and get them. He revealed unto me many things
concerning the inhabitants of the earth which since have been revealed in commandments and
As the Mormon religion grew within the United States, Joseph Smith remained at its head. Not a
remote figure delegating responsibility, Smith continued to convert new members and presided
over the first move west to Kirtland, Ohio and the second to Commerce (later Nauvoo), Illinois.
There, he was forced to deal with an increasingly antagonistic situation; the distaste and even
outright hatred with which much of the rest of the country seemed to view the Mormons erupted
not infrequently into mob violence, and Smith himself and his close associates were arrested
more than once on various charges. Near the end of his life, Smith seemed to style himself in the
role of a dictator over his small kingdom. Aside from being "sealed" polygynously to over
twenty Mormon women during the last three years of his life, he also ran for the United States
presidency, destroyed the printing press and business of a group of Mormon dissenters, and by
mid-June of 1844, declared martial law in Nauvoo. For this (and other real or imagined
offences), Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested. Although they first fled across the
Mississippi River, they both returned three days later and surrendered at Carthage, Illinois.
Two days after their arrest, in jail and under the protection of state marshals, Joseph and
Hyrum Smith were shot to death by a mob.